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April 22, 2011

Five Ways Public Transit Helps Protect Our Environment

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On April 22, 1970 the U.S. celebrated the first Earth Day to celebrate awareness and appreciation of earth’s natural resources and their protection.  Each year on Earth Day we are reminded of the small things we can do in life to lessen our impact and strengthen our connection with the environment, doing everything from recycling to light bulbs to water conservation. But don’t forget the green impact rolling on a street near you…public transit. Public transit as a transportation choice not only effects the environment directly, but also through long-term investment and development helps us utilize our resources. Here are five reasons to go public transit on Earth Day and throughout the year:

Carbon Emissions
Commuting by public transportation reduces your carbon emissions by 20lbs per day, 4,800 lbs per year, which is more than if you weatherized your home, converted to fluorescent bulbs and replaced an old refrigerator, combined.

Why is carbon bad? U.S. greenhouse gases from transportation represent 28 percent of total U.S. emissions. Carbon is one of the greenhouse gases that help regulate radiation in the atmosphere, but many scientists believe too much carbon leads to increasing temperatures and less oxygen in the oceans. Public transit saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – equivalent to the emissions resulting from the electricity generated in every household in Washington, DC; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined.

Check your carbon savings using public transit.

Land Use
Transportation and land use are intimately related. How we use our land and infrastructure resources, whether it’s for farmland, suburban home, dense employment centers, etc., is related to how we can move people and goods. In cities, public transit allows more people to live in denser neighborhoods, preserving more land and reusing urban infill land. It also decreases the need for parking lots, roadways, driveways as well as expanded infrastructure for water, utilities, and goods transport. Even at a smaller suburban scale, public transit can help spur redevelopment around a town center and shopping district to conserve resources.

Transit-oriented development, versus auto-oriented development seeks to use smart land use strategies to create dense, walkable neighborhoods that are more oriented to walking and transit hubs than requiring cars to reach farther-away destinations.

Oil Dependency
Yes, gas prices are up. Yes, spending on gas means you can’t spend your money on your local economy. If that isn’t reason enough, there are plenty of green reasons to give up the pump. Public transportation saves the U.S. the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually and saves the equivalent of 900,000 automobile fill-ups every day. The average transit rider uses approximately half of the oil that a automobile rider uses. We know that oil can have devastating costs on the environment, whether in its extraction or use, so it’s good to use conservatively.

Promoting Biking & Walking
I don’t know if public transit goes together with biking and walking like peanut butter, jelly and bananas, but it is a good combination. Combining the three modes of getting around allows a wider range of use and convenience, uses less oil and creates less air pollution. Biking and walking tend to be much less expensive options, and create less waste, including infrastructure. And of course, it promotes exercise and a healthier lifestyle.

The Future
The amount of time that Americans spent driving increased has dramatically from the time of the original Earth Day, and little of the rise was due to population increase as much as additional miles driven by individuals. At the same time, Americans increased their oil consumption and obesity rates, and decreased their use of biking, walking and public transit.

But for the last four years, the number of people taking public transit, biking and walking has increased. Hopefully we are starting a trend that will continue into the future, leading the United States toward a new direction.

Happy Earth Day!

Transit Benefits

6 thoughts on “Five Ways Public Transit Helps Protect Our Environment”

  1. jstrehl10 says:

    This article is awesome! I wish that MetroLink would expand in the city.

    1. Courtney says:

      Thanks, we appreciate it!

  2. RTBones says:


    I’m with you. I’d love to see Metro have more Metrolink lines here in St. Louis. The only issue is how to fund them. I can think of about a half dozen more I’d like to see. The problem, as Courtney can tell you – is how to fund them. Metro’s budget, even with the latest tax approved, is limited. Until a funding source is secured, those of us wanting more Metrolink lines are stuck with what we have.

  3. JK says:

    Seems like Metro could do more. Just because they offer a service that is more sustainable than the alternative doesn’t make them an environmentaly friendly company. Just because a car company makes a hybrid doesn’t mean they don’t cut down the rainforest for the wood grain steering wheel.

    Where’s the biodiesel? Why are people still allowed to help themselves to as many bus schedules as they want? Why do some of the buildings Metro owns still have black roofs? Why isn’t there a real place to put your bike on the train (“stay behind the yellow line”)? Why were heaters installed on the platforms without some kind of windshield, they’re useless on a windy day?

    It’s not all bad though, they do have blue recylcing bins for paper in their offices which employees can use.

    1. Courtney says:

      We are currently in the first stages of implementing a company-wide sustainability initiative, to complement some of the work in energy efficiency and conservation. There is always more that a company could do, as it should be. It’s an ongoing project.

      As for biodiesel, our IL buses do run on B2 diesel w/bioethanol, but the Missouri program using B20 ended after the grant ran out, and we had problems with microbial growth in fuel filters. Caused a lot of maintenance issues, but large part is cost. We do continue to print bus schedules, mainly because some people do not have access to the internet on a reliable basis, and it’s a convenience to those customers. I don’t carry them anymore myself, but that is because a smart phone makes it easier to plan trips on the go.

      We are looking at other options for bike storage and policy on trains, and I will update you when we have information for the public. As for heaters, we were finally able to install them this year thanks to a grant, so there wasn’t enough money to complete that aspect of design. We are on the look out for more ways to promote sustainability internally, and suggestions are welcome. We just received back contracts for desk-side, single-stream recycling this week, so very excited for that.

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